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A Blogging Good Read - April

Thursday, 7 April 2016

It's Blogging Good Read time again! This month I've been joined by Gwen from Shutters & Letters and Kezzie from Kezzie AG. Huge thanks to them both for jumping in at short notice! Yes, I am very forgetful and didn't remember to actually organise participants in time. I'm trying to improve. On that note, if you want to join in (new or experienced, all BGR folk are welcome!), please let me know.

Anyway, what did we read this month?

My choice was 84 Charing Cross Roadby Helene Hanff:

 Janet mentioned this book in her 2015 book review post and I immediately whacked it on my to-read list. I love epistolary books. It doesn't matter if they're fiction or non fiction. Put a series of letters/telegrams/emails/diary entries in front of me and I'm a happy reader. Not only is this a book of letters, it's a book of letters about BOOKS. Could there be anything better?

It's an incredibly charming, easy to read book, consisting of a series of letters between Helene Hanff, an author living in New York, and the members of staff at Marks & Co antiquarian bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road. They span twenty years or so and even though it's not a long book, the letters beautifully capture the relationships and personalities, whims and all, of everyone concerned. Most importantly, they all love books. I could listen to people rhapsodising about old editions and favourite authors all day, so this is like a little slice of bookish heaven to me.

What did Gwen think?

It's an unusual book, this. I often find letter- formed stories hard to read, so I listened to it as an audio book, which worked well. The upside of the letters is that, as far as we are aware, they are all real and the correspondents slowly come to life as the years go past. The downside? I can't help thinking they are edited. There are considerably more from Hanff to the bookshop than the other way around, and unfortunately I found the London characters much more interesting. Hanff comes across, despite her generosity to the staff in sending food parcels, as somewhat of a diva, and I often found myself rolling my eyes at her. It's a pleasant enough tale but unfortunately not quite up there with The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, which I couldn't help but compare it to.

How about Kezzie?

I absolutely adore fiction written using the narrative technique of letters between characters and I think that 84 Charing Cross road was the first of this kind I ever read. There is so much opportunity to imagine the world and moments and occurences that are unwritten between the missives. This book is utterly gorgeous seeing Frank Doel and Helene Hanff start off so formally and relax into an easy familiarity. Hanff has a great sense of humour in her writing- eccentric and witty. I became a part of the affection which all at Marks & Co hold Helen in, through her generosity in sending the employees at Marks and Co and subsidiary characters food during the rationing. The book is one which attaches you emotionally quite early on and I spent this second reading of the book (it's been at least a decade since I last read it) willing Helene to go to England to meet Frank and co. The ending (no spoilers) made me react emotionally. I knew it was coming but still, that didn't change anything! This is a brilliant book which you can read in an hour or so- brilliant!

Kezzie picked The World According to Annaby Jostein Gaarder:

I chose this because I've enjoyed several other Jostein Gaarder books immensely. They are generally very thought-provoking, beautiful description, a new perspective on the world, compelling, excellent characterisation and potentially some other-worldly element. 

In this book, Anna is on the cusp of her 16th birthday and is taken to a doctor because she has dreams in which she is in other places and times and other people. At this time, she dreams she is Nova, possibly her own grandaughter in a barren world where global warming and animal extinction have reached a critical point. It is a cautionary tale in ensuring we do not pillage the earth to the detriment of our future generations. I like the message of it, everyone making a tiny difference or trying to make a big difference in order to effect change, but I found the narrative irritatingly disjoined between Nova's time and Anna's time. I also felt it lacked explanation WHY the events occur and I felt like the book finished far too abruptly. It felt a bit too preachy too, edven though I strongly concur with the message of the book to do something NOW about irrevocably changing our world through not trying to to take care. I'm glad I read the book, but in this case, I think it would be better read by a younger audience as it lacked the development I'm used to in Gaarder's writing.

I hadn't read any of Gaarder's books before this one. It came with a recommendation from Kezzie that although she hadn't read it yet, he was one of her favourite authors so she was expecting it to be a good read. Now we have fairly similar taste in books for the most part so I was fully anticipating liking it but I actually took violently against it. Sorry Kezzie! (although reading the above review, it wasn't a complete success for you either...)

It's just so preachy. So very, very preachy. Like being trapped in a corner at a party by the local bore who wants to tell you all about how not cycling to work means you're personally killing all the polar bears. On top of the preachiness, it wasn't very well written or even that interesting or well-executed a plot. I'm sure he is a talented author but this can't possibly be his best work.

What did Gwen think?

I was really looking forward to reading this - having never quite got around to picking up any of his other classics I was excited to see what the fuss was about. Oh, how disappointed I was. Gaarder's premise was interesting, but there was no explanation of how Anna received her messages, and the characterisation was, in my humble opinion, dire (particularly Anna's psychiatrist, who was a cartoon). I also found myself rolling my eyes at how far fetched and inaccurate some of his assumptions of climate change are. I'm not the biggest fan of YA, as done badly it can read like it was written by a YA, and sadly this fell into that category. Not for me at all.

Gwen chose Jamaica Innby Daphne Du Maurier:

I read Rebecca years ago and enjoyed it, so I was intrigued by how different Jamaica Inn was - while the rather Gothic tension was familiar, that was the end of the similarities. Jamaica Inn isn't the most challenging book I've ever read - the plot is surprisingly simple - and at times I found myself wondering why it is so lauded. It's slow. Nothing much happens until the last few chapters. The "twist" isn't really that surprising... But it is incredibly atmospheric, something that I find a lot of more modern novels lack. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been curled up next to a log fire with the wind and rain outside, but it was a good pick anyway.

What did Kezzie think of it?

Wow, this was exciting!!! Such excellent description created a truly dark and disturbing backdrop. Mary is an intrepid, brave and loyal hero, stuck at the mercy of her wicked Uncle Joss at the Sinister Jamaica Inn on the Launceston Road in Cornwall. Smuggling and other such nefarious activities are ride and it is up to Mary to find a way to escape and free her much beleaguered and downtrodden Aunty. Mary's suspicions of who she can trust and who might help her are intriguing and as I have a suspicious mind, I realised who she must definitely not trust correctly immediately. It was certainly a compelling page-turner. Joss is rather a caricature of the evil tyrant, but that doesn't make him any less scary. I certainly want to read more Du Maurier after this. I feel her handling of the landscape, characters and storyline was accomplished and the suspense and tension was excellent. Thanks for making me finally read something by this author!

This was my first taste of Du Maurier. Overall impressions are favourable, methinks. As Gwen has mentioned in her review, it's not the most challenging novel in terms of plot but by heck, the atmosphere and sense of place will take some beating. If you're on board with a bit of Cornish gloomy melodrama (and frankly I am), this is the book for you. Smugglers and albino vicars and shady characters up to no good on the moors: it's got them all!

It is all underpinned with a very real sense of everyday menace though and the plight that Mary finds herself in must have been commonplace back then - if you were left penniless and had to go to whichever relatives would take you in, that's not exactly the guarantee of a secure, trouble-free future. I found myself really rather worried about if and how she'd escape the sinister relatives in the end, so despite the melodrama, it still had me hooked!

Thanks again to Kezzie and Gwen.

Next month for Blogging Good Read we'll be reading Crooked Heartby Lissa Evans, The Turning Pointby Freya North and The Hare With Amber Eyesby Edmund de Waal.